Strategies to Deal with Mistakes

First off, don’t freak out. These kind of mistakes happen – they’re part of calligraphy. At any point in its lifetime, but particularly towards the end, a nib can decide to start behaving wonky – ink will splatter, it will catch in the paper, or lose ink drops when it’s not supposed to. This happens. Also, in the beginning of your calligraphy journey, you might find that it’s not always so easy to control even the friendliest of nibs. Again, this is normal and nothing to lose your serenity over.

Try to stay relaxed. Be nice to yourself when mistakes happen. Breathe in and out, long deep breaths when you feel anger. I know how often I’ve gotten frustrated or even angry in the past because I messed up a perfect piece with one false hand movement. Please don’t do this, it just isn’t worth it. Plus, it can create a tendency for negativity in the future. The brain is conditioned to react to negativity in a much stronger way than positivity (this is actually hard-wired survival behavior). We can, with practice and mindfulness, work out ways to circumvent this and give ourselves an easier time when things go wrong.
And seriously, what is a messed up calligraphy in the great scheme of things anyway? This may sound silly, but it has helped me, even if that messed up calligraphy was a commissioned piece. Your life will be the way you look at it, positive or negative. You decide that. As soon as you let go what angers you, it becomes so much more easy.

So, relax, be extra nice to yourself, and don’t forget to breathe. Then you can concentrate on repairing – there are ways to fix small errors if you need to.

Ways to Fix Smaller Errors

For a more practical approach to calligraphic errors I can give you three solutions:

1. Include the mistake in your piece.

Seriously, that way I have saved a few greeting cards myself. Some great things were created by mistake. Embrace them. Have you heard of the way Bob Ross paints Happy Accidents into his picture? This is the kind of mindset I’d like you to embrace. Maybe loose ink splatters make your envelope look messy in a good, unintentional way, or drawing a watercolor frame around your card makes it look even better.

2. Scrape it off

With a sharp cutter you can very carefully scrape away ink spatters or fix small errors in letters. Be careful not to make holes into the paper, though, and don’t hurt yourself with the cutter! Be warned that you have to proceed very carefully and you may ruin the (already sort of ruined) piece in the process, in which case you’ll eventually may have to:

3. Start over entirely

Sometimes you’ll need to start over. Remember, this is totally okay, and nothing to feel bad about. Sometimes I’m glad I had to rewrite a piece because it turned out even better the second time when I was warmed up completely and was able to include decisions that I didn’t like in the first version.
In most cases you can use your previous piece as a guide with the help of a lightbox. This will speed up the writing process so you won’t lose so much time.

Mistakes Are Part of the Process

Lastly, something fundamental to consider – why it might even be good you’re making mistakes.
As I said, don’t let yourself be defined by your mistakes, but by how you approach them. Be kind to yourself. Learn from your mistakes.
Especially in the beginning, you will make a lot of mistakes. I did. How many times do you think I was at the last line of a piece that looked great when I had some ink splatter all over it.

This is normal. We are all human and we mess up sometimes and it’s not something to look down on. Don’t give up, don’t be discouraged. Be extra nice to yourself and start over. Even if that means losing a lot of time, or not nailing a certain line as perfectly as you did before. Calligraphy also means embracing the flow of letters, and the change inherent to writing itself.

Don’t keep the things that went wrong in your mind, keep the things that worked, and then take a small break, breathe in some fresh air, and start anew.


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